Candace Bushnell talks 'Summer and the City': Carrie, Samantha, and Miranda take on the wild New York of the 80's
Summer and the City, Sex and the City creator Candace Bushnell’s followup to The Carrie Diaries, continues the saga of young Carrie Bradshaw’s journey from naive suburban teen to the seasoned author/fashionista we know so well. In Bushnell’s new offering, we’re with Carrie during her first summer in New York, where she’s taking a writing class at The New School and pursuing a much older man. We also learn how she first met her future BFFs, Miranda Hobbes and Samantha Jones (we even get a quick glimpse of Charlotte!). The YA novel reveals the darker, seamier aspects of the city in the early 80’s, and it takes an honest look at some of the less comfortable parts of growing up. Still, it’s enjoyable romp of a read, and 17-year-old Carrie often proves to be a sharper, edgier observer than her older on-screen incarnation. Bushnell took some time to speak to EW about young Carrie and what’s in store for her and her friends.
How fun was it to introduce 25-year-old Samantha and 18-year-old Miranda?
It was so much fun. I just love Miranda’s character — it just makes so much sense to me that she would be this kind of hardcore feminist. Because that’s what women were like in the early 80’s. Feminism was a very big deal. There really were women who protested in front of Saks against pornography, and they would shout things like, “Women, wake up!” I came to New York in the late 70’s when I was 19, so I put in a lot of things that were very, very true to that time. It informs the characters and the kind of women they become.
I think people will come to this book with ideas of who Carrie, Samantha, and Miranda should be, and they might be surprised by what they discover. How much of these characterizations are influenced by the show, and how much by your original ideas of who these characters are?
It’s hard to say. Screenwriters are really writing for actors playing their parts, but when you’re writing the novel, the actor isn’t between you and the character. In a sense, you have more freedom to write that character however you see her. For me, I actually didn’t think about the TV show or the movies when I was writing the books because it really is apples and oranges. The little differences between the show and the books feel incidental to me. They may not to other people, but as the writer and the creator, the characters still feel like the characters in both iterations.
There are some explicit differences between Carrie’s upbringing in the show and her upbringing in the books. In the show, Carrie was raised by a single mother, and in the books, she has a single father.
You know, the way it was in the show just didn’t work in the book. I know there’s also a brief mention in the show about Carrie losing her virginity at 15 in her basement, but that doesn’t work in the book either. Where is she going to go as a character in these books if she loses her virginity at 15? It doesn’t make sense here. If it’s an off-hand remark in a series, it’s fine, because they’re never going to revisit it.
And seeing Samantha getting ready for marriage at 25 is a shocker, but it makes sense.
It makes sense, because when we first meet her in the series she’s 40. Samantha is very of the times, and in the early 80’s, when you’re a very attractive woman in her 20’s in New York, you wanted to be part of a power couple. You wanted to be a career woman who had it all. You had the great career and the really powerful businessman husband, or the powerful artist-husband. It absolutely makes sense that that’s where she would be. Obviously, something has to happen to make her realize that trying to twist herself into society’s idea of what she should be isn’t going to work for her. That’s probably a journey that’s going to take her quite a few years. So we meet her in Summer and the City when she’s 25, and then there’s basically a 15-year gap.
Do you plan on filling that gap with more young adult Carrie books?
I’d like to! I do have another two-book deal with HarperCollins for more young adult books, and I really loved the way Summer and the City turned out. It’s gotten some — knock on wood — great reviews. It just seems like so much more can happen to them! When you’re in your late teens and 20’s, you haven’t answered any of the questions to your life. You’re still trying to find the answers of who you are and where you fit in. I haven’t decided yet whether the YA novels I’m signed on for will be Carrie Diaries books.
We still need to meet Charlotte! Out of all the characters, I’m most curious what she was like when she was a teen.
Exactly. What’s she going to be like? I would think that she probably wouldn’t even meet Miranda and Samantha right away. Or if she did, maybe they wouldn’t like her. How did Charlotte get to be friends with them? I’m not sure that they were best friends right away the way Miranda, Carrie, and Samantha are.
What about writing YA is different from writing for adults — and what’s difficult about it?
I guess for me the hardest part was writing in first person present, which is a style that young adult editors like to use because it’s very immediate. I originally created Carrie Bradshaw, my alter ego, so I could write in third person. First person present is hard to pull off because the character can only know what the character knows in the moment. There’s no foreshadowing. And the character can’t be too grown up. You can’t have a character that knows more than a 17-year-old would know. They don’t have enough experience.
At 17, Carrie smokes, drinks without being carded, and drifts from party to party in Summer and the City. It seems like kids today have a lot more restrictions on them.
They really do. Back then, you in a way couldn’t be a helicopter parent. You couldn’t stay in touch with your kids all the time. You didn’t expect that you were going to hear from your kids every day if they were away. It would have been considered weird. When I came to New York, I really was a kid. When I went to Studio 54, there were 14-year-olds there, and you never got carded at the bar. Never. Never. It was 30 years ago!
The New York in this book seems so much grimier than New York now, and certainly the New York of the TV series and the movies.
It was grimier. People always ask me if New York has changed. I never know if it seems as if it’s changed because I’m a lot older or if it’s really different. After writing this book and talking to people, it seems it really is different. It’s not as spontaneous. New York was wild.
Did you do anything in particular to put yourself in the mindset of being 17 in the early 80’s?
I really didn’t, except my father found a journal that I’d kept when I was in high school. I was always writing things like, “I’m going to go to Europe and show everybody ….” It was very young, and kind of dark.
The book itself is pretty dark. It’s for young adults, but there are a few gritty things in there.
It’s really important to me that it be authentic. The characters are nothing like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and they couldn’t be to become the characters they are in Sex and the City. To me, the characters in Sex and the City feel very rooted in a particular place in time. When we meet them in the 90’s, they’re single women in their 30’s. But they come from this generation that I’m writing about in Summer and the City of young women who came to the city in the early 80’s to have it all, and this was one of the first times in history when women were told to have it all, and to pursue careers. There’s a lot of stuff that is only hinted at in the book, like sexual harassment, which was an everyday occurrence back then. There’s a reason why Miranda’s hardcore feminist. There was a lot of inequality between the sexes, and there was no political correctness, so people didn’t hesitate to say insulting things to you as a woman or to behave inappropriately.
It’s funny how pink the cover is, though, despite some of the dark content.
It’s the ultimate pink cover — it doesn’t get any pinker! It’s so pink that it’s almost ironic or meta or whatever they call it. It is PINK! But it’s not really pink inside.